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September 2013

Do You Have
Sticky Faith?


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Sudden Wealth

Sudden Wealth: Blessing or Curse? (Part One)

by Bill and Brenda Evans


Read Sudden Wealth: Blessing or Curse? (Part Two)


Some syndromes I wouldn’t mind having. Sudden-wealth syndrome, for example, or at least the opportunity to have it and see if I can handle it (or tame it, or endure it, or whatever it is you do with a syndrome like that). I just know that I would give it a blue-ribbon try if I had the chance.

But that’s not likely. I don’t play the lottery. Don’t do big-money scratch-offs or send cards to Publisher’s Clearing House. Don’t play the horses, even the

Derby ones. And don’t have a wealthy relative near death or have a wealthy relative at all, as far as I know. But in the spirit of full disclosure, one of us (he will remain nameless) admits once upon a time regularly playing the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes—never won a dime, not even a copper.

Just for clarity, sudden wealth is most often defined as a lump sum equal to a few of your annual incomes. Also for clarity, if it comes, this windfall likely will be from a family inheritance or insurance settlement unless you indulge in a get-rich-quick ploy and have unusual success.

Remember, too, that wealth for me may not be wealth for you. Whether it is $10,000, $10 million, or $100 million, the problem arises not so much from the amount, as how you handle the amount. According to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, two-thirds of Baby Boomers will inherit money, most likely during your later, middle-age years. So be prepared, you may be gob-smacked with sudden wealth…and the syndrome that often runs along with it.


What should you know about sudden wealth?

Anxiety, guilt, numbness, confusion—even sleep disorders—are common psychological snags for the suddenly rich. On the other end of things, some feel inordinately powerful, invulnerable, overly elated. Any one of these is a signal to go slow and easy. I did some legwork for a friend who was both executor and sole beneficiary of his uncle’s sizable estate. He told me at the very beginning, “I don’t want it. Won’t take it. Why didn’t our uncle split it between all of us? There’ll be trouble, and I don’t want trouble.” Social or familial strain or stress is common. Expect it.

Sudden wealth is often lost—all of it. Missy Sullivan in Wall Street Journal’s Money says, “New riches prove particularly hard to hold onto—and even harder to patiently nurture and grow.” Her research shows that 70% evaporates by the end of the second generation, 90% by the end of the third. We see it all the time. Think lottery winners, athletes, stars. And it happens to the rest of us as well. We run through inheritances at a gallop. We frivol away insurance settlements. A Texas family’s new business mushroomed: fleets of vehicles, private plane, dinners in New York or L.A., art works, limos and drivers—the works. Too quick. A few lost contracts, an economic stalemate, and the newfound fortune was just as quickly lost.

The more undisciplined you are with money now, the more apt you are to lose it all when a lump sum arrives. Check yourself: am I a conserver or spender? Do I grow it or blow it? Not much will change when a windfall comes, wealth preservationists say.

Sudden Wealth: Blessing or Curse? Part One

Presumption of an endless stream is another aspect of sudden-wealth syndrome. You function as if on a permanent vacation. You spend as if there is no end. You treat and treat and treat yourself or your family. You “buy” friendships. All sure signs of trouble, says Stacy Allred of Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group. My newly rich Midwest friend learned the hard way that a large insurance settlement grows suddenly small after new home, new vehicle, gifts, cruise, and frequent celebrations. He awoke one morning to realize that hundred of thousands had dwindled to a thousand. Don’t say, “That would never happen to me.”

Families come apart. In-fighting is common. “Wealth is a magnifier,” says Vic Preisser, managing director of the Williams Group, a family-wealth consultancy. “If you have problems, it will magnify them.” I know this, too, because of a modest inheritance a relative received from her grandmother. She recently confided that her two brothers have not spoken to her in 12 years because the inheritance was not divided three ways. “I cared for my grandmother, took her food, stayed with her when nobody else would, but that didn’t matter to them. I don’t feel guilty, but I don’t I like what that small amount of money did to me and my brothers,” she says.


What should you do about sudden wealth?

  • Remember those psychological issues? They are signals to go slow and easy. Irvin G. Schorsch III calls the first blush of wealth the “honeymoon phase” and warns that the suddenly rich are very vulnerable early-on. It’s “too much, too soon,” he says. “I recommend they deposit their newfound wealth in a safe, insured account with an independent custodian or bank.” What you do next is this: step back. Wait. Gain perspective. Avoid early overspending and risky investing sprees. Restore your equilibrium and good sense. Take all the time you need.

  • Recognize that sudden wealth can be a blessing or a curse. No question, it is a trial, a testing of your faith, your will, your wisdom, even your character, but it can also produce blessings if you master it. I recommend James as a sound scriptural place to begin. Fill your mind, your heart with chapter 1. Soak in it because what James says is strategic to how you handle or mishandle money.

  • Ask for wisdom. Chew on what this new money means to you and what it does not. Then chew on it some more. Let James and the Holy Spirit guide you. Decide who you are and who you want to be before the Lord, with or without this new money. Then accept the money as a good and perfect gift from the Father, given to you for good and blessed purposes. Determine—think like Daniel here—that you will use this sudden wealth to bless and be a blessing, not a curse. Set limits, boundaries for yourself and your family. Work on these together, especially with your spouse, and eventually with your children, even the small ones.

  • Spend nothing until you make sound plans that have three components: what to share, what to save, what to spend. Notice the order. Share: make gifts reach far and benefit the most people, especially God’s mission and ministries. Forego gifts to individuals except to meet urgent specific needs, not wants. Save: don’t stash this new money in fruit jars under the floor of your bedroom. Instead, develop a wealth growth and preservation plan. Finally, spend: wisely, graciously, happily.

Wealth is not evil. Wealth need not be a curse. Counting on it, depending on it, loving it, losing it—now that’s the curse!

(In Sudden Wealth: Blessing or Curse, Part 2, Bill and Brenda will discuss responsibilities of those who leave inheritances to family members.)


About the Writers: Bill and Brenda Evans live in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. Bill is former director of the Free Will Baptist Foundation and Brenda is a retired English teacher. Visit for more information on planned giving that benefits your favorite ministry.


©2013 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists